Decreasing attention spans

Published: July 15, 2017

ISLAMABAD: A recent Microsoft consumer study claims that the human attention span today is eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Somehow, I do not find this information hard to believe. For the past several years, since the onslaught of social media and particularly phone apps, I have also noticed a slump in my ability to concentrate on one thing for too long.

It has become harder than ever to read through an entire article, and that disappoints me and stands in stark contrast to my youthful days where I could read an entire book cover to cover. It isn’t even our fault. While reading, our phones beep or buzz and we can’t help but wonder at who is contacting us, or, perhaps, what is going on. It is almost like we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.

The study, by technology giant Microsoft, did, however, find that the ability of humans to multitask has improved. It read: “Canadians [who were tested] with more digital lifestyles [those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology] struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed. While digital lifestyles decrease sustained attention overall, it’s only true in the long term. Early adopters and heavy social media users front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention.” Hence, it’s safe to say that this decreased attention span also has its own merits. It is also true that we are now more able to do several things at once, and to sporadically focus intensely.

However, I do not feel like I am alone when I say that I miss the days when I could just read or do anything uninterrupted. I miss the time when my mind was not always full of useless images, like what my childhood neighbour had for lunch on his exotic vacation. Such unnecessary social media knowledge unnecessarily permeates and occupies important peripheral brain space.

Iftikhar Raheel

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2017.

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